2021 Highlander vs. Ascent Comparison

For confident driving in both the city and country no matter the season, SUVs offer enough capability and utility to keep you going. The Toyota Highlander has been a successful addition to the Toyota mid-size SUV lineup. It provides the ample performance, efficiency, convenience, and safety features that customers want to see no matter the model you choose.

Stepping out of its normally smaller-SUV market segment, Subaru introduced the Ascent in 2019 as a true mid-size SUV addition to their crossover-focused lineup. Subaru is also known for its rally-car heritage and boxer engines, and lately has added similar standard active safety features that Toyota Highlander customers have enjoyed for years. Highlander has always paid attention to the little details, which is part of the reason it has stayed ahead of the newer-to-the-market Ascent.

With the 2021 Highlander, you can enjoy features like Android Auto™, Apple CarPlay®, and Amazon Alexa compatibility standard. The base grade Ascent has Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay® compatibility standard but misses out on Amazon Alexa connectivity.

Although the Subaru Ascent has a lower starting MSRP of $32,295, the Highlander L FWD (starting at $34,810) comes packed with standard performance, safety, and multimedia features you won’t find for the same price on the Ascent.

Let's take a closer look at how these two SUVs compare in the areas that matter most to you.

Publish Date: 12/07/2020

2021 Highlander towing a boat


  • The Highlander offers hybrid engine options for even better fuel economy ratings.
  • Get more standard horsepower in the Highlander, which has 295 horsepower. The Ascent has 260 horsepower.
  • Both the Highlander and Ascent have roadside assistance programs, but only Toyota provides factory-scheduled maintenance as part of its ToyotaCare plan.

These days, breaking into the SUV market after having driven smaller vehicles doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fuel economy. In fact, the Highlander offers a hybrid engine option for those looking to improve their efficiency.

Fuel Economy

First let's take a look at the gas models side by side. The AWD versions of both the Highlander and Ascent have similar mileage estimates. The Highlander L AWD has an EPA-estimated 20/27/23 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating compared to an EPA-estimated 21/27/23 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating for the Ascent base model.

For even better gas mileage estimates, the 2021 Highlander has four hybrid trims to choose from, which are available in both FWD and AWD options. The Highlander Hybrid LE FWD has an EPA-estimated 36/35/36 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating and the Hybrid LE AWD has an EPA-estimated 35/35/35 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating. The Subaru Ascent does not offer a hybrid engine option.

Looking at engine performance, the standard 3.5L V6 DOHC engine in the Highlander gas models produces 295 horsepower. The Ascent has a standard 2.4L DOHC Turbocharged engine which produces 260 horsepower.

The Highlander also benefits from the ToyotaCare plan, which can help keep your car running smoothly. Every lease or purchase of a new Highlander comes standard with 2 years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, of factory-scheduled maintenance plus 24-hour roadside assistance for 2 years and unlimited mileage. Subaru customers get Subaru Roadside Assistance for 3 years/36,000 miles with the Subaru Limited Warranty. You will, however, need to purchase the Added Security maintenance plan.

2021 Highlander driving through the city


  • The Highlander and Ascent have similar standard active safety features that come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+) and EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology. However, the Highlander has Road Sign Assist (RSA), while Subaru does not offer this feature.
  • All Highlanders come standard with a trial of Safety Connect®. You'll need to get the Ascent Premium or higher for Subaru's STARLINK® Safety and Security.
  • The Subaru Ascent does not have the driver knee airbag or passenger seat cushion airbag that comes standard with the Highlander.

Both the Highlander and Ascent offer a full list of standard active safety features. For the 2021 model year, Toyota enhanced Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 (TSS 2.0) and created an even more impressive safety system called Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+). You get TSS 2.5+ and all that comes with it standard in the 2021 Highlander.

Standard Safety Features

Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+) includes: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA), Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), Automatic High Beams (AHB), Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), and Road Sign Assist (RSA).

The Subaru Ascent comes standard with EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology which includes: Pre-collision Braking System, Pre-Collision Throttle Management, Lane Departure and Sway Warning, and Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering.High Beam Assist (HBA) also come standard to compliment the EyeSight® Driver Assist Technology. However, the Ascent misses out on a comparable Road Sign Assist feature. The Ascent does, however, feature Blind-Spot Detection with Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert standard on the Ascent Premium.

The Highlander also comes standard with a complimentary one-year trial subscription of Safety Connect®. This includes Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance, and Automatic Collision Notification. The Subaru counterpart, STARLINK® Safety and Security, is not available on the base model Ascent. It is standard on the Ascent Premium grade and above.

You also get additional airbag coverage in the Highlander with driver knee airbag and passenger seat cushion airbags.

Driver using the 2021 Highlander touchscreen display


  • The Highlander includes Amazon Alexa compatibility while the Ascent does not mention this feature.
  • You get a bigger infotainment touchscreen and more USB ports standard on the Highlander.
  • Both the Highlander and Ascent have standard three-zone automatic climate control, but the Highlander also includes controls for the second row.

Stay connected and make your ride more fun with multimedia options that will sync your car to your device in the 2021 Highlander.

Standard Multimedia Features

For more connectivity options, the Highlander has standard Android Auto™, Apple CarPlay®, and Amazon Alexa compatibility. The Subaru Ascent has Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay®. However, it lacks Amazon Alexa on any trim.

The Highlander also has a larger 8.0-in. touchscreen compared to the standard 6.5-inch touchscreen that comes with the Ascent. Plus, you get an available 12.3-in. touchscreen on the Highlander Limited and Hybrid Limited. It comes standard on the Platinum and Hybrid Platinum.

Charge up everyone's technology with five USB ports and two 12V outlets standard in the Highlander. Comparatively, the Ascent has fewer USB ports with dual front USB input ports and second-row USB ports for a total of four USB ports standard on the base model and Ascent Premium.

To help keep you comfortable, the Highlander has three-zone automatic climate control with air filter, separate second-row control panel, individual temperature settings for the driver, front passenger and rear-seat passengers, and second and third-row vents. The base model Ascent does have three zone climate control but second-row climate controls are only standard on the Ascent Premium and higher.

Driver getting in to a red 2020 Highlander

Conclusion: Highlander vs. Ascent

  • A 12.3-inch touchscreen is available on the Highlander Limited and Hybrid Limited; this size is standard on the Highlander Platinum and Hybrid Platinum. The Ascent comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen.
  • Boost your fuel economy ratings when you choose one of the Highlander hybrid engine options.
  • Enhance your safety experience with both Safety Connect® and Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ standard on the Highlander.

Highlander offers standard features that drivers want. Having been around for nearly 20 years, the Toyota Highlander has kept up with the times, creating more room for passengers, improving its safety system, and offering hybrid engine trims.

As mentioned previously, the Highlander Hybrid LE FWD has an EPA-estimated 36/35/36 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating which far surpasses the Ascent. The Subaru Ascent has yet to create a hybrid model and has a standard 21/27/23 (city/highway/combined) MPG rating.

While the standard safety options are similar in both the Highlander and Ascent, the Highlander offers a 1-year trial of Safety Connect® n addition to Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ (TSS 2.5+). Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+ includes Road Sign Assist (RSA) which the Ascent safety package does not mention.

Whether you want to take longer adventures or are driving locally, the Highlander is a great option for you and your crew.